Re-thinking food

By Jen:

Last week I kvetched here about how I’m a bit bored with the whole dieting thing and the foods I’ve been eating.  I’m in a better frame of mind now.  Thanks to everyone who posted such wonderfully supportive comments.  Apparently I just had a case of the “January Blah’s.”  Several people reminded me that there are a lot of yummy vegetables out there, which is true, and I’ve switched from flavorless salads to more seasonal fare, including vegetable-based soups.

Eating seasonally is something we Americans are largely unaware of.  We go to the grocery store and find rows and rows of fresh produce from all over the world and from all seasons.  While this seems normal to us, in the larger history of humans, this is actually abnormal.  For centuries, people ate locally grown foods in season and preserved as much as they could for the cold months.

Last year I read the excellent book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. What an amazing, thought-provoking book.  For one year, Kingsolver and her family decided to eat only local foods in season. That meant they had to either produce those foods themselves or know the back story of the food they bought. That also meant that they gave up M&Ms, soda, chips, and most other junk foods — not inconsiderable when you consider that Kingsolver has an elementary school aged daughter and one in college.

As Kingsolver herself wrote, “This is the story of a year in which we made every attempt to feed ourselves animals and vegetables whose provenance we really knew … and of how our family was changed by our first year of deliberately eating food produced from the same place where we worked, went to school, loved our neighbors, drank the water, and breathed the air.”

Month by month, the reader learns how the family ate foods that were in season or had been stored for later use. The book is a combination of memoir and investigative journalism, as the family researches food issues, including organic vs. conventional, genetically modified vs. heirloom vegetables, and local vs. international supply. This is not a dry read, however, as there are many entertaining anecdotes. For example, with great humor and honesty, Kingsolver discusses the sex lives of her turkeys.  Really.  I promise  it’s not akin to bird porn.

I highly recommend this book. And, if you remain unconvinced of the need for Americans to change the way we eat, I also suggest you read Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser and Don’t Eat This Book by Morgan Spurlock, which I reviewed here last month.

In the meantime, here in Jenworld, we are rethinking our eating habits.  While we’d like to have strawberries in January, we recognize that we’ll have to be patient for a few more months.  Yes, we could go to the store and buy berries, however they would be flavorless and not worth the money spent.  We’re not perfect — we’re still going to buy bananas, which are certainly not local to Virginia.  But we’re going to avoid the crappy berries, tasteless tomatoes, and overpriced asparagus.  We’re going to be patient and wait for the good stuff in a few months.  We’re worth it.


7 responses to “Re-thinking food

  1. The other bit about eating local and seasonal, is you tend to pay less for more and better flavor! Rule of thumb: if it is cheap produce, there is a good chance it’s good. As you know, this is backward from most thumb-type rules.

  2. I’m trying to re-think a lot of the food we eat. Not only produce, but bread and meat and treats. I don’t enjoy Wonder bread, so why eat it? If I’m going to have bread I’ll have a slice of wonderful bakery bread. I don’t enjoy re-heated frozen ‘meat’ products, so I’m not eating them. I’m not eating Oreos, if I want a treat I’ll have something less processed, and really delicious. It means thinking, planning, and cooking more; but I’m eating less and eating better.

    But I’ll admit that I do buy the off-season and extortionately priced strawberries for the kids. It’s one of the only fruits that I can cut up for a picky 4-year old’s 20 minute school lunch that doesn’t go icky and she actually eats!

  3. This sounds extremely interesting. I am going to have to check this book out. Although, I’m a little nervous that living in the desert I will be left choosing prickly pear jelly and jalapeno syrup. I do believe that there are some foods that should be left as “survivalist” food only! Anyone for javelina jerky?

    This post reminds me of a friend who only shops the outer perimeter of the grocery store and never ventures much into the aisles. Outer perimeter is fresh, inner aisles are processed.

  4. Good heavens Toni… do you live in NM or AZ?

  5. Toni, that’s an interesting way to shop. When I shop at Whole Foods, I tend to hit all the aisles simply because there’s so much to see and consider. On the rare occasion that I do go to a conventional grocery store, I now realize that I too stick more or less to the perimeter.

  6. BonMama – I am an Arizona Desert Rat! Although I’d rather be somewhere else.

  7. You go, girlfriend! I grow berries in the summer and freeze them to eat all the rest of the year. I refuse to touch a tomato (other than out of my freezer or the yummy Muir Glen canned ones in a pinch). It’s tough to get past the mindset that we should have whatever we want, whenever we want it, but when things are special, the experience of them is richer, no?

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